Today the church remembers a woman who had a small frame but was a giant in the life of so many around the world: Saint Mother Teresa, Servant, Renewer of Society, and Woman full of Existential Doubt.
Born Gonxha Agnes Bjoaxhiu in Skopje, Albania in the year 1910, this slight saint was raised in the faith by her mother, as her father died when she was just eight. In September of 1928 Gonxha left home intending to become a missionary and entered the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ireland. Being only eighteen at the time, she changed her name to Sister Mary Teresa after St. Therese of Lisieux, and prepared to head to India that December.
In January of 1929 Saint Teresa arrived in Calcutta and began her formal ministry with the people she would eventually identify with. In 1937 she made her final vows and was given the title “Mother,” an homage to not only her status within the ecclesial body of the church, but also as a testament to her outlook: tender, heart-felt, and courageously fierce when it came to the care of her people.
It is no exaggeration to say that many of us were the children of Mother Teresa.
On September 10th (it’s really amazing how many of the events of her life happened in September until we realize that this month is really a month of transitions in all creation) in the year 1946 she received a nudge from the Holy Spirit that a religious community should be formed in Calcutta, dedicated to serving the lowest caste of the societal system there.
In August of 1948 she officially received permission to found the Missionaries of Charity, with their white a blue bordered garb as a tell-tale sign of their work.
By 1950 her movement to serve the poorest of the poor in the world had spread from Calcutta to Venezuela, Rome, Tanzanie, and eventually to every continent throughout the known world. She truly inspired a movement that can be called world-changing.
In 1979 she was honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace and gained larger international fame. What is less-known about Saint Teresa, our common Mother, is that she was plagued by doubt and existential questions. Even as she gained fame as a woman of faith her private life was one of wrestling with the God she professed and the destitute poverty she witnessed. Only after her death did we all realize the deep struggle she faced daily to profess a God of love when so many in the world went without.
In this way, she truly is the Mother of so many of us.
In 1997, having served Calcutta for so many years, Mother Teresa died. She was given a state funeral in India and buried in the motherhouse there at the Sisters of Charity. She remains both an inspiration and an honest participant in both the service that Christ calls us to and the questions surrounding the idea of a benevolent God when there is so much hurt and pain and sorrow in the world.
Saint Mother Teresa is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that no amount of faith can shield us from the honest questions that come when we’re proximity of those who go without in this world.
Honestly, anyone without questions has not examined their faith…and this saint is a reminder of that.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s _New Book of Festivals & Commemorations_